By on December 14, 2011

Ah, the Malaise Era. Some cars are just poster children for the 1973-1983 period of diminished expectations, sclerotic automaker bureaucracy, tape stripes, and the ascendancy of focus-group marketers. Take, for example, the 1977-1979 Ranchero, during which Ford decided to use the massive Thunderbird platform as the basis for their popular cartruck. It should have been a commercial disaster, but in fact it sold quite well.
A “personal luxury” car, with a truck bed!
This example, which I found in a gloomy Northern California self-service yard a couple of weeks back, is pretty much used up.
When cars rust to death in coastal California, they do it like this. During the long rainy season (all winter), water leaks in past the low-bidder weatherstripping and pools beneath the carpeting; GM cars preferred the trunk floor for this process, while Fords went for the front floors.
Ford wasn’t shy about crazy snout treatments in the 1970s; while I think the peak was the 1970 Mercury Cyclone, the MalaiseChero still has some weird style.
Leather!

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66 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1978 Ford Ranchero...”


  • avatar
    JCraig

    Wow that first picture is EPIC.

    “Ford wasn’t shy about crazy snout treatments in the 1970s; while I think the peak was the 1970 Mercury Cyclone, the MalaiseChero still has some weird style”

    You said it! This thing looks like it could plow through castle walls! I love the far right gauge. Just a blank w/ hash marks. So glad cars don’t have blank gauges anymore. Like a big “YOU’RE CHEAP” sign staring you in the face.

    • 0 avatar
      mjc1066

      if said ranchero is available for parts, please let me know at mjc1066@aol.com i need both front marker lights, tail gate and maybe the bumpers. thanks, Mike

      • 0 avatar
        rancherodriver

        I HAVE A DAILY DRIVER 78 THAT I’VE BEEN DRIVING SINCE 79 NOW WITH A 351 THAT IS STRONG AND FAST AND STILL DOES NOT USE OIL REBUILT IN 84 BUT 3 WEEKS AGO REVERSE WENT OUT WITH A POP BACKING OUT THE DRIVEWAY AND THOUGH IT STILL PULLS ITS REBUILD TIME AND I’M CONSIDERING LETTING IT GO. DOES THIS CAR INTEREST YOU? IF YOU OR ANYONE IS INTERESTED I’M AT RRSTREAT@TAMPABAY.RR.COM

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    This example looks to be a stripper model, as it has the base instrument panel and no power options. But you gotta love those early 70′s Cadillac seats!!!

  • avatar
    Flybrian

    This thing has got to have the smallest cab-to-rest-of-car ratio ever. Its like 45/10/45 as in hood/cabin/bed.

    P.S. Who wants to take Lincoln bits and make a retro Mark LT…?

  • avatar
    carbiz

    Ouch. My eyes are still hurting. My mind is reeling with the memories of the streets choked with these FUGLY Fords. The ’73 and later LTDs were the aborted poster children of the malaise era, IMO. The cars that these trucklets were based on ASPIRE to be LTDs one day.
    Your remarks about the nose treatments are bang on. Who amongst us that lived back then can ever forget the short-lived 1970 Pontiac, ’72 Thunderbird and the Elites that this Ranchero has the misfortune of resembling?
    Looking back at Detroit’s offerings of this era, it’s no wonder Honda and Toyota were able to sneak up the back stairs! As a former Mopar addict, I can remember walking to school in the mid-70s and seeing a ‘new’ Imperial, no New Yorker, nope Newport, er Dodge St. Regis, ugh, I give up!
    It was a depressing time to grow up if you were an auto buff.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    “Take, for example, the 1977-1979 Ranchero, during which Ford decided to use the massive Thunderbird platform as the basis for their popular cartruck.”

    Actually, that’s a little misleading. The Ranchero had been based upon the Fairlane since 1967 (it used a Falcon front clip for 1966). The 1977 Ranchero used the LTD II as a base, and that car was nothing but a rebodied 1972 Torino. The Thunderbird was substantially downsized in 1977 to fit on the LTD II intermediate platform. Previously, it shared underpinnings with the Mark III to Mark V Lincolns.

    I think the 1972+ Torino, Montego, and all of their later derivatives are terrible cars. Heavy, piggish, ugly, sloppy dynamics, poor interior room, and a sign of Ford’s utter cynicism in dealing with the Malaise era.

    • 0 avatar
      bdaniels_us

      100% true, the LTD II was just a restyled Torino. The wagons and the Ranchero had identical bodywork to the Torino save for the front clip. The sedan and coupe were entirely restyled. The T-Bird was downsized to the Torino platform replacing the Ford Elite. They also chopped the price and sold them by the truckload.

      These cars were pigs but I like them..blame it on childhood nostalgia. When I lived in Albany NY in the early 90s I used to see a Ranchero from this era customized with a 77-79 T-Bird front clip around town from time to time. I remember is as having Cragars, side pipes, and custom paint. Probably nothing special under the hood but it looked the business.

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        Well, that answers the question I was going to ask. It’s not going to transform this Cinderella into a princess, but the T-Bird nose is a definite improvement over the LTD II prow. The hardest part of the conversion is probably hooking up all the vacuum plumbing required to operate the headlight doors — after rehabilitating it because it will definitely be leaky; they all are.

      • 0 avatar
        tonyola

        Actually, the Ranchero was restyled for 1977 too – it had smoother flanks with no kickup behind the doors. The wagons kept the Torino styling for 1977 because they were dropped after one year, replaced for 1978 by the Fairmont wagons.

    • 0 avatar
      cfclark

      +1 – My parents’ ’73 Torino was a bloated, massive piece of junk.

    • 0 avatar
      Nick

      Don’t forget how they murdered the Cougar.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      But the Gran Torino from the movie of the same name is a great looking car.

  • avatar
    Hank

    My great-uncle drove three in a row and swore by them (he used them and Subaru 4×4 wagons on his ranch all time, and didn’t like full-size trucks…don’t know why).

    When he went in to order his last one, they were no longer taking orders, and stock was low. He’d been a loyal customer, the dealer said he’d find him a good one. He did. A loaded GT, the last off the assembly, line with a certified commemorative plaque from Ford. I don’t know what happened to it when he died, his family didn’t care about it. He also had a one-owner 56 Skyliner in the garage, a LaSalle in the barn. Somebody out there probably scored a couple of good deals.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    The Aztek. The Ami 6. The Pacer.
    This.thing.
    There is a market for freak machines. Machines that shock the senses, confound the logic, and brings preschoolers to tears.

    Born of committees, these beasts have no fathers. They are the results of undigested potatoes within Scrooge’s gaseous belly. The are Frankenstein monsters, built with parts of other vehicles, assembled in the dark of a foggy night, the released upon the public like a pandemic of road rash.

    The Frankenchero usually was a simple bastard offspring from a dull Ford Fairlane. However, in 1973, the Federal Government decreed that the front end of cars must be redesigned to serve as park benches for imaginary miniature know it alls. Detroit ended up taking cosmetically challenged vehicles like the 1972 Torino and extending it’s overdesigned snout another foot of ugly. Then grafting fake plastic and rubberized pot metal over the entire mess. Ford just gave up trying with the Torino. By 1978, no one at Ford gave a flying fig how nasty their intermediate cars appeared because everyone knew what came after 1974 was not the fault of any designer in Dearborn.

    So, what was a decent looking Frankenchero in 1972, became a visually shocking embarrassment by 1978.

    Yet they sold?

    Frankencheros cried out for love like ugly orphans and many buyers wanted one to love. Many believed that deep down, the Frankenchero couldn’t be as ugly as it appeared.

    They were wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      morbo

      -1. This thing is beautiful. In a ‘Fark the World, fark the gaslines, get the fark out of my way’, manner. They just don’t make em like this no more. My new 2011 300C has the hint of tailfins on the rear fender top and into the tail lights. hints of Imperials and DeVille’s of yore in the vertical taillight treatment.

      My kingdom for a ’74 Sedan DeVille convertible with Bluetooth, SatNav, and a 7+ Liter V8.

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        That kingdom better have a good customizer, as no droptop DeVilles rolled out of Clark Avenue in ’74. Only Eldorados.

      • 0 avatar
        morbo

        I stand corrected madHungarian. I remember cruising in my uncle’s 74 convertible Cadillac in rural Virginia and thinking it was the greatest thing ever, To my 5 year old eyes the car was so big I remember it as a 4-door, when it must have been a 2-door.

        A great car of unimaginable proportions relative to modern cars.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Say what you will about the homogenization of vehicle styling in recent years, but at least we don’t have to drive anything that looks like this creature anymore.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    Back when Ford make this car/truck, real pickups were very truck like with not a lot of extras availble. So if you wanted a really nice truck, this was it. Today trucks are really nice. Ford and others saw this car/truck selling well and started improving trucks to be more car like and truck sales took off.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      I don’t agree with you. My 1976 Chevy Cheyenne pickup had a decent interior and rode as well as my ’03 truck. My truck didn’t have power windows or door locks or air but they were available.

      I believe that the main driver for making the trucks nicer inside and with more options was the fact that they were also selling $40,000 SUV’s on the same platform, and the upgraded pieces for the Suburbans, Tahoes, Expeditions etc. were shared with the pickups.

    • 0 avatar
      Lemmy-powered

      I disagree. There were plenty of nice trucks back in the day, and if you flip though a stack of old National Geographics I guarantee you’ll find an ad or two touting a high-trim, two-tone pickup that can be taken out on the town (and is at least as nice as this horrible thing). You know the ones — they had full hubcaps, chrome trim, AM/FM/8-track, maybe even some carpeting.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Seeing this abomination just has Nancy Kerrigan screaming in my mind: WHY???…WHY???…

  • avatar

    Bizarre hood to bed size ratio on these. I suspect there would be more room under the hood than in the bed if you pulled the motor.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Don’t bother pulling the motor. I’ll bet you there’s more vacant airspace in front of the radiator than the related “long-hood, short-deck” Torinos had in their trunks.

      As an aside, it was GM who started the whole “long hood, short deck” thing in ’68 with their intermediates — a layout that lent its oversize proboscis to creations like this. It’s interesting, really. I think they figured, probably correctly, that most of the buyers weren’t using the rear seats, so they made the car feel like a full-size from the driver’s seat, while sizing it like a compact from the B-pillars back. Exactly the opposite of the approach popularized later by the Germans and Japanese, where the engine room was squeezed as tight as possible to maximize passenger and cargo room for a given footprint. Of course, the latter won in time, but GM sold a helluva lot of cars doing it their way.

      • 0 avatar
        texan01

        Actually it was Iacocca and the Mustang that started the Long-hood/Short-Deck look in ’64.

        GM came up with the “Coke Bottle” design.

        My long-hood short deck ’77 Chevelle sedan is still shorter than this thing, which is just long and longer. I parked it next to a ’74 Ranchero and it was dwarfed by the trucklet, which at 209″ long is a feat nowadays.

        And if you look at cars now, they still have the long-hood short-deck theme, just now with postage stamp trunklids and somewhat longer hoods.

      • 0 avatar
        Lemmy-powered

        Long-hood, short deck goes at least back to the 1920s.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    I had a 500$ ’73 Gran Torino Squire wagon. A 351 Cleavland with a C4. It was a rust bucket ,but went pretty good

  • avatar
    dswilly

    I was looking for the picture of the enormous cavity behind the seat that goes back under the PU bed. You could nearly sleep in it

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    Honestly now: what looks worse, this, or a Ridgeline?

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    Here’s a 50 dollar Ranchero that dodged the bullet a lot better…
    http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/3-the-stars/star-truckin/885-september-2010-father-and-son-team-up-on-a-car-project-a-1979-ford-ranchero.html

    • 0 avatar
      npbheights

      The Cougar front clip looks surprisingly great on a Ranchero. Makes you wonder why L-M didn’t do this as they put the Cougar front clip on the sedan and wagon version of this platform. I guess it wasn’t Ranchero’s year to join the cat set.

    • 0 avatar
      MadHungarian

      Dang, it’s amazing how much better that looks with the Cougar clip. It probably doesn’t really make the truck any shorter or lighter, but it looks that way, and that’s enough.

      And that’s Cheryl Tiegs in that Cougar ad. Ahh, those were the days, when models actually looked good, instead of looking like famine refugees.

  • avatar
    Acubra

    Say what you want, but I do love those slim A-pillars or the era. Blind spots… What blind spots?!
    A workmate drives one like this. He keeps a 400 lb slab of steel in the bed to keep the rear wheels planted.
    And I should admit I like the way these dinosaurs look on the road today. Tons (literally) of presence…

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      The A-pillars might be slim but you could hide a semi in the blind spot created by that huge sail panel behind the rear window.

      • 0 avatar
        gottacook

        Come to think of it, it’s surprising that the designers didn’t find a way to fit opera windows into those sail panels, that being the era of the near-obligatory opera window.

        The front overhang on these babies still amazes me. Perhaps it’s as great as on the Continental Mark V of the same era? Huge in any case, even by the standards of the day.

      • 0 avatar
        MadHungarian

        Maybe if you were really ambitious with your T-Birdchero conversion, you could figure out a way to graft on the Bird’s basket handle with the B pillar opera windows.

    • 0 avatar
      texan01

      You thing they weigh a lot, my GM sedan version of this car tips the scales at a relatively svelte 3900 pounds.

      How much does the average car weigh now?

  • avatar

    That is one sorry looking junker. And you cna’t tell whether it’s GM or Ford. Truly lowest common denominator styling, so low the snakes are looking down on it. Although I’m sure most of today’s cars would look just as ugly in similar condition.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    It’s been smoked in. Damn.

  • avatar
    Dynasty

    Whenever I see a car like this my thoughts are: Does he have insurance? Is that guy on meth, I bet he’s drunk. Give him a wide path. That guy looks like a creep.

    People bought these for the simple reason that people buy crap today. They just didn’t realize how crappy it was at the time. Look at the terrible floor plans that most new houses have today. But most people don’t know any better, and contractors keep building them because people keep buying them. People keep buying them because they don’t have a choice. Unless really loaded you can buy a vacant lot somewhere and have a custom home built. And even that is a gamble. Most cities zoning ordinances make it very difficult to build anything that is not a cookie cutter design. And if you live in the suburbs, you are even more constrained by suburban development patterns.

    The market is not always right when its controlled by a few companies who conspire to create the cheapest ugliest garbage possible. And especially ‘well meaning’ government regulators who impose their standards.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Another gratuitous cheap shot at government regulation. It’s an uncontrollable disease on Internet boards nowadays.

      I don’t work for the government, but I don’t see how any government action mandated the baroque excess of the Ranchero, Monte Carlo, etc. If anything, subsequent EPA mileage regs curtailed it.

      • 0 avatar
        Dynasty

        I work in the government. And I see it everyday with what we try to do with design. People way higher above our pay grade have made decisions on how things are supposed to be. That forces us into decisions that we know are bad, but have no control over.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        This look was desired by many customers at the time, judging by the sales figures. Whether we like it or not is irrelevant. Ford put it on the market, and it sold well, making money for the company in the process. End of story.

        If one didn’t like it, he or she was free to buy something else. Ford did not have a monopoly on the new-vehicle market in the late 1970s. That’s the way the free market works, and it does work.

        It’s not the goverment’s responsibility to “curtail” baroque excess. (The federal government didn’t care if a car had a long hood, stand-up hood ornament, formal grille, opera windows, a velour-lined interior and a vinyl roof, as long as it met applicable safety and emissions standards. There were plenty of federal regulations covering vehicle design in the early 1990s, but you still buy a 1991 Chrysler Imperial with all of those “features.”)

        In the long run, that look was put out to pasture by changing customer tastes. The federal government had nothing to do with it. By the early 1980s, people were ready for the next big thing – and it was Ford, ironically enough, that led the way among domestics with the cleaner “aero-look” Tunderbird, Tempo and Taurus. The baroque look was a passing phase, much like tailfins in the late 1950s or the fastback look in the late 1960s.

      • 0 avatar
        car_guy2010

        YOU are the government. Remember that the next time you vote for a P.O.S that hurts your way of life.

        Why are people complaining when there are less car accidents now than ever? Feel free to offer your hypothesis but I see this site as a place for anti-government, right-wing crybabies to inject politics into car topics.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Here’s my remembrance of this era…This is a great example of that ‘gigantic vehicle on a tiny footprint’ phase that Detroit went through in the Seventies. I seem to recall papers and magazines frequently quoting safety crusaders, telling us that we needed more protection in crashes. Detroit’s response, which fooled a lot of people for a long time, seemed to this kid (at the time) to be a radical shrinking of wheelbases and track widths to give the all-important appearance of safety bestowed by a thicker perimeter of metal, while making actual operating safety (e.g. handling, braking) significantly worse. Kind of like the gunslit window trend of the ’00′s in a lot of ways, come to think of it.
      BTW: some years back, the first time my young’un saw a Ranchero, I had to explain to him it was not a Chevy. Here’s how he tried to sum up my explanation: “Ranchero must be Spanish for El Camino”. Truer words were never spoken.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Rust? You call that rust? That’s just some surface damage. Come back when you can see the ground underneath the vehicles, or there are large holes and iron ore where metalwork should be – then you can call it rust!

    • 0 avatar
      nikita

      1970′s cars that rusted badly on the California coast are already long gone. They rusted from the top down. It was mostly GM products after they switched the Southgate and Van Nuys plants to water based paint in ’73. Honda also gets honorable mention. My aunt’s 1st gen Accord rusted away from the top down long before the mechanicals were even well broken in, being parked outside a couple of blocks from the Pacific Ocean. Cooler than Hawaii, so the process is a bit slower, but same result.

  • avatar
    Ryoku75

    Sorta ugly, but not recent Hyundai or Juke ugly.

  • avatar
    mad_science

    Re:styling…
    Look at anything from the second half of the ’70s. Clothes, furniture, interior furnishings…they’re all ridiculous. This is just an extension thereof.

    You’ll notice so much faux luxury going on everywhere, because that’s exactly what consumer products do when the economy takes a dump. Money’s tight, so buying something cheap that looks expensive is psychologically attractive.

    In times when the economy’s doing well, you see actually wealthy people buying less obviously luxurious products. Best example might be someone buying an H1 (just a Hummer then) in the late 90s. The “cool” rich guy thing to do is not spend 100k on a 750 or S-class, but on some brutish truck.

    • 0 avatar
      skor

      That about sums it up, I was in grade school for most of the 70′s the level of do*chebagger that went on at the time is difficult for most people who didn’t experience it firsthand to comprehend today. It’s almost like the Soviets were blasting the US with a bad-taste ray.

      Loud polyester clothes, Metallic floral wall paper, orange shag carpets, lava lamps, kitchen appliances painted puke green, or urine yellow or crap brown. Cars with “opera windows”. Opera windows on everything. How these things ended up being called “opera windows”, I have no clue.

      I shudder thinking it about it today.

  • avatar
    mad_science

    The styling element that really kills Malaise Tanks for me is the dimension between the outside edge of the tire and the outside edge of the wheel well. Huge, wide body…little dinky tires.

    Specifically, they look like fat women spilling over the tops of their jeans.

    Regardless of function, it’s amazing what a proportionally appropriate set of wheels/tires (15-17″ wheels, 255-series tires) does for them.

  • avatar
    SuperACG

    Say what you guys will…I like this! Definitely dig the swanky stacked lights, but it needs the oversized aftermarket “pimp grille” so common on the Caddys and Lincolns of the period.

    If you guys remember the Overhaulin’ episode where they took an El Camino with a similar front end, and swapped the “Laguna” face on it…I was upset about that.

    I just like the “weirdness” of the 70s. Maybe it reminds me of being a kid, but nothing, not even the weirdness of the 80s can surpass 70s charm.

  • avatar
    svenmeier

    I know I’ll get flamed for this, but I always thought the Ford LTD II looked quite nice, especially in wagon form.

    http://stationwagonforums.com/forums/gallery/files/6/1977FordLTDIISquire.jpg


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